The Tao of transit
The Tao of transit
Photos by Steve Satterwhite

Sound Garden

Aslender bamboo leaf floats from above and alights on the surface of a shallow pond. Under the water a school of dime-size minnows darts among the reeds, under a moon bridge, then circles around carefully placed rocks. Amid all this Asian greenery, a visitor resting beneath the shade of a yew tree ponders life. Inspired by the Zenlike peacefulness, haikus seem to float from the depths of his mind like air bubbles.


a traveler sits


Symbiosis by Osmosis

The Japanese garden at the Miami Beach Botanical Garden, 2000 Convention Center Dr, Miami Beach

They can be heard 24 hours a day through January 10, 2002. Matamoros and Armando Rodriguez perform a duet on carpenter's saw and bagpipes from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. in the garden Thursday, December 13, and Thursday, January 10, 2002. Call 305-673-ARTS.

rain-soaked bench

Across the street from the acres of parking lot surrounding the Miami Beach Convention Center, the Japanese garden at the Miami Beach Botanical Garden sits like an island in a sea of concrete. It is sanctuary, a chance to escape the pressing demands of the day and commune with a slice of nature. The stillness of the place leaves the mind free to wander -- with one slight glitch.

Dreaming of snow

on Mount Fuji

bus roars up

Parked on the street a mere twenty feet from the stone lanterns and pagodas of repose, just beyond the bordering hedge, an idling city bus rumbles and hisses. It's an interruption that can't be ignored, chasing the natural tranquility of the garden halfway to China. But while this motorized belch intrudes rudely on the reveries of would-be Buddhas, musician and sound artist Gustavo Matamoros of the South Florida Composers Alliance (SFCA) found the "bus noise versus Zen garden" challenge irresistible.

Asked by the botanical garden several months ago to create a sound installation in the garden, Matamoros strolled through the grounds one day searching for an appropriate site. When he passed through the Japanese gardens, he was struck by the stark contrast between the peaceful environment there and the industrial grind of the parked buses just outside.

"I noticed that the bus station was right next to it and actually was quite busy, with buses coming in and out all the time," says Matamoros from his SFCA offices in North Miami. "That immediately caught my attention, and I spent a little time there and figured what was going on was not clicking, in terms of the garden being a place where you can sit and contemplate a little bit."

For a man whose own compositions befriend any and all types of sound, natural or manmade, the cacophony presented an opportunity to explore new horizons in sound. Rather than devise a way to mitigate the noise pollution, Matamoros conceived of the site-specific sound-gardening project, Symbiosis by Osmosis.

"Perhaps an architect would think about building a wall, like they're doing on I-95. Or someone in the city might say, “Well, let's move the bus station,'" Matamoros laughs. "So I thought I could perhaps do something that would instead render the sound of the bus more appropriate for the function of the garden."

To accomplish this Matamoros spent time in the garden recording whatever sounds happened to waft into his mike -- that is, primarily, bus noises. Back in the studio he extracted the droning frequencies of the bus, played them back on the saw (yes, the saw, as in carpenter's), and digitally reworked it into an ethereal loop of tones that shift ever so slightly in and out of phase.

"What I thought of doing was to create a certain filter that would make a segue, where the two come together, the garden and the bus," he says of his master plan. "And the effect is when you hear the tones, they're toned very softly in the garden, so when you go there, the sound's like a vibration. Then when the bus comes in, there's this interaction between the garden and the sound of the bus."

Now, as the visitor lingers in the garden, he begins to notice the sound coming from the bamboo shoots and from across the pond, spilling from inside the rhododendron, like some exotic singing plant. There's an echo, a shadow tone ringing from hidden speakers. As the bus arrives, the matching tone from the installation softens the blow, rendering the loud, low grumble of the bus if not more interesting, at least more palatable. And when the behemoth finally shoves off, a residual rumbling remains.

"What's in the garden is very simple compared to the sound that's coming out of the bus," explains Matamoros. "What happens is the sounds begin to interact, and if you sit there long enough you start hearing a great deal of stuff, and when the bus goes away you start missing it. At least that's the premise. So instead of keeping things apart, I'm trying to figure out ways to keep things together."


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